The Lost Mother

( 4 )


Since the publication of her astonishing debut, Vanished, Mary McGarry Morris has been compared with John Steinbeck and Carson McCullers and widely praised as “a superb storyteller” (The Washington Post) and “one of our finest American writers” (The Miami Herald). Now, in her sixth novel, Morris has achieved new heights with her riveting chronicle of the Talcotts, a family in rural Vermont during the Great Depression.

Abandoned by his beautiful wife, Irene, Henry and their two ...

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Since the publication of her astonishing debut, Vanished, Mary McGarry Morris has been compared with John Steinbeck and Carson McCullers and widely praised as “a superb storyteller” (The Washington Post) and “one of our finest American writers” (The Miami Herald). Now, in her sixth novel, Morris has achieved new heights with her riveting chronicle of the Talcotts, a family in rural Vermont during the Great Depression.

Abandoned by his beautiful wife, Irene, Henry and their two young children, Thomas and Margaret, spend that summer in a tent on the edge of Black Pond. Henry, an itinerant butcher, struggles to provide for them, but often must leave them alone as he travels the county in search of work. And while Henry loves his children deeply, he is devastated by their mother’s desertion. He has not told them why she left or if she’ll return. When Mrs. Phyllis Farley, a prosperous neighbor, begins to woo the children as companions for her strange, housebound son, Henry must weigh an unusual proposition, the consequences of which may cost him everything. Powerfully imagined and intensely felt, The Lost Mother is a haunting masterwork and McGarry Morris’s strongest novel to date.

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Editorial Reviews

Richard Grant
Morris's plot, with its twists and reversals (too many and too exciting to recount here), feels tragic in its inevitability. And yet, to the reader's amazement, its message is ultimately redemptive and affirming. This may be the saddest story ever to have a happy ending. It surely is the quietest, subtlest novel that ever kept me up into the small hours of the night, unable to look away.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
"They said it was bad for everyone, but nobody else the boy knew had to live in the woods." Thus begins the harrowing story of 12-year-old Thomas and eight-year-old Margaret in Morris's powerful sixth novel. Reduced to living in a tent in Vermont during the Depression, the children and their father, Henry Talcott, a butcher who must travel daily seeking work, are barely surviving their abandonment by the children's reluctant mother. The shattered family aches with the desire to bring home beautiful, troubled Irene while Henry crumbles into a "whipped man... worn down and grim," and Thomas takes on the role of caretaker. Henry's longtime friend Gladys shows the family rare kindness, but a longstanding animosity between her crotchety father and Henry makes it impossible for the Talcotts to accept her charity. In typical Morris fashion, the author paints a brutal landscape and authentic characters with delicacy and precision: from the chaotic household of Irene's alcoholic sister to the creepy relationship between a sick boy and his doting mother, who wants to adopt Thomas and Margaret. Never one to shy away from the messy and bleak, Morris (Songs in Ordinary Time; Vanished) unflinchingly illuminates the bitter existence of neglected children and their inspiring resilience, once again proving herself a storyteller of great compassion, insight and depth. Agent, Jean Naggar. 3-city author tour. (Feb. 21) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Abandoned by their mother and bankrupted out of their home, Thomas, 11, and Margaret, 8, are forced to grow up too quickly, surviving hand-to-mouth with their father in a tent in Vermont's woods during the Great Depression. While the man does his best to care for their physical needs, he is too besieged by worries about survival to spare any tenderness. The children are convinced that their mother will return, and their continued hopefulness and loyalty to her is perhaps the most heartbreaking element of this tale. As much as this is a story about Thomas and Margaret, it is also about the ways in which severe hardships bring out extremes in human nature. Irene fails her children most tragically, but they are let down more subtly by most of the other adults with whom they are involved. Morris's stark language evokes the loneliness and disconnectedness of two children desperately trying to find their way back to their mother, only to face her rejection a second time. All is not lost, however: amid the grasping self-centeredness that dominates many of the characters, one person redeems himself and offers the youngsters the acceptance and compassion they have missed for so long. Painstaking detail provides richness and a valuable history lesson on 1930s America. The central themes of resiliency and hope are a good reminder that even when individuals or communities feel that they have no control over their circumstances, it is their response to those circumstances that makes all the difference.-Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Library System, VA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A Depression-era, lachrymose saga targeting the latest fashionable villain in literature: the absent mother. During the Depression, hard times descend on rural Vermont, where teenaged Thomas and his younger sister, Margaret, have to live in a tent near Black Pond with their father, Henry Talcott, their farm having been foreclosed due to lack of slaughtering work. Compounding the economic crisis is the desertion of their mother, Irene, who has caught a bus to Collerton, Massachusetts, to work in the mills and save money to bring home. Or so the story goes, since the beautiful, sensitive Irene, despondent since the needless death of her last child, has decamped for good, leaving the two lonely children to be neglected by a haughty, brooding father who can't provide for them. From time to time, the children are rescued and fed by such neighbors as the kind-hearted Gladys Bibeau, Henry's fiancee until Irene turned his head; and the conniving, rich Farleys, who now own Henry's land and aim to adopt Margaret as a playmate for their half-witted son Jesse-boy. Morris (A Hole in the Universe, 2004, etc.) piles on the misfortunes, and by the time the kids arrive at Mom's doorstep, nothing can get worse for them-except that it does. Morris's characters, save for the children, are cutouts, especially Irene, who appears merely blank, and father Henry, whose 11th-hour claim for his children after a course of general indifference makes no sense. Even the nuns in the orphanage are caricatures. Morris employs tricky devices for emotional effect, such as setting the novel in a fuzzy, bygone era full of nostalgic associations, but the reader quickly tires of emotional manipulation. A mother remorselesslyabandons her children in a cheap tearjerker. Author tour. Agent: Jean Naggar/Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143036456
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/4/2006
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 1,533,743
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.53 (d)

Meet the Author

Mary McGarry Morris is the author of Vanished, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award; A Dangerous Woman, which was chosen by Time as of of the five best novels of 1991; Songs in Ordinary Time, an Oprah's Book Club Selection and national bestseller, and the critically acclaimed Fiona Range and A Hole in the Universe. She lives in Andover, Massachussetts.

On the web:

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2007

    I was mislead by the other reviews..........

    I only read this book because I read the reviews and they sounded great. This is the first I have read of this author, and I have to say the story just dragged on. The character development was extremely poor in my opionion and I had to force myself to finish reading it. I do NOT recommend this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2006


    this was very gritty with a great ending. lots of insight in to human nature. I wholeheartdley reccommend this.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2005


    Abundantly talented stage and screen actress Judith Ivey is also blessed with a luminous voice. She can calibrate it from Texas twang to enchantingly low, well modulated to an almost whisper-like caress. Thus, it is always a pleasure to hear her read an audio book. That pleasure is doubled when her narrative is as fine as the one penned by Marry McGarry Morris. With a story set in rural Vermont during the Depression era we meet two young ones, Thomas Talcott, 12, and his sister, Margaret, 8. Their father, Henry, met the fate of so many others - he lost everything and now must try to earn sustenance as a traveling butcher. The children's mother, Irene, has abandoned them, leaving a desolate Henry, and two confused, unhappy youngsters. Henry's attempts to support himself and his family fail miserably, thus the little family is reduced to living in a tent. There are overtures by a well-to-do neighbor to help them, perhaps as playmates for her sick son. However, the terms of that offer may be more than Henry can countenance. Judith Ivey gives a touching, award worthy reading of 'The Lost Mother.' - Gail Cooke

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2005

    Outstanding, emotional story

    I can't wait to read more of Mary McGarry Morris. I loved this story--I felt the pain and loss of Thomas & Margaret, the main characters. I am looking forward to reading more from this author.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 30, 2004

    No surprises in this novel!

    I've been a fan of Morris' since 'Songs In Ordinary Time', I enjoyed 'A Hole in the Universe' but with this novel I feel that she is trying to appeal to a larger audience and in doing so her literary style is altered. I was always rewarded with richly imagined characters in her other novels, unique and well drawn. These characters, Henry and his two young children may be easily identified with but I didn't realize great depth in her descriptions. I also felt as I quickly turned pages, hoping for more, that there were no real surprises in the plot and too simple of a resolution in the ending. The quality of writing is still there and some book clubs may enjoy this book, it is an easy read. I however, will await yet her next book when I hope she returns to the quality and intricacy of plot that won her such praise for 'Songs in Ordinary Time'.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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